*Have camera, will travel.

How good is your memory?  Can you remember the way that the lights reflected off of the wet cobble stone streets?  The excitement in your child’s face as they realize that other worlds exist?  That questionable meal that forced you to spend the evening exploring the finer points of your hotel room’s bathroom?  Well, for many of us, a vacation without our camera is not really a vacation.  I’ve had quite a few questions about what to bring, when not to shoot, or how do I choose what to use while traveling…

I love traveling, although I’m currently traveling for the first time with our 1 year old, so check back with me in a couple weeks to see if the sentiment maintains itself.  For me, getting to interact with the place that I’m in from behind my camera is what gets me up early in the morning and helps me look at the place I’m in more intensely.  I tend to notice the differences more immediately as my senses are heightened and more vulnerable.  Through this, I’m able to help tie these sensual memories to my visual documentation.  I remember smells and sounds better when I’m looking for a shot and even years later, the story I’m able to recount from these little tidbits of visual recollection help me remember my trips.

I used to worry that I wouldn’t have the right lens, or perhaps might be caught without a flashgun when needed before I packed my gear for travel.  This resulted in me dragging most all of my gear with me every time I’d go anywhere.  I quickly realized that even when I had my full quiver of lenses available to me, I would gravitate to one or two lenses and the others would end up buried in my bag beneath metro maps, gloves, etc.  But, what if I need to take a picture of a wide, expansive landscape and then immediately need to zoom into an animal a quarter mile away? Well, I guess I’ve come to peace with the fact that I will settle for one of those shots, and as long as I can get one of those shots to look as good as I possibly can, then I’m happy.

I’ve been asked about which lenses to take travelling, which, is a very valid question.  A question to which there is no correct answer.  I used to go into a more precise tirade of anticipation and preparedness, now I usually try to ask the asker to answer their own question.  Everyone will have to pull from their own experience to give advice, and will be biased based on that experience.  My advice is to use whatever you’re most comfortable with.  If that is a 10x super zoom, or a single prime lens, so be it.  Think “your style” vs trying to cover every possible scenario, and focus on making images that you will want to look at later, not just snapshots of every single detail.  Travelling is a balance for me.  A balance between documenting my experience, and the actual experience itself.  I’ve had trips where the former got more attention than the later, and I regretted it down the road.  Don’t forget to remember what the river smells like, or the wind felt like on your face.  Stop and smell those roses.

Now, away from the hypothetical and on to the actual.  I love forcing myself to compose and capture with a single prime lens for any given outing.  I will bring a couple lenses with me, and try to leave all but one (or maybe two) behind for a day’s events.  This does two things for me, one, I think more about my pictures and two, I don’t spend money on pain pills to soothe my aching back from carrying 30lbs of gear all day.  I spend more time enjoying just being on vacation all while getting to think about my vacation intimately from a photographic standpoint.  I fully admit that this may not be the same for anyone else, but hey, it’s my blog, and you’ve read this far, so I guess you’re at least kind of interested in my opinion.

If I were to give advice to someone asking me about bringing photography gear traveling, my key points would read something like this:

  • First, research insurance.  Most homeowner/renter’s policies will allow you to add on your gear for insurance outside of the home.  If traveling internationally, make sure you specify you want coverage anywhere you go for damage and theft.
  • Let your style dictate the gear.  If you’re not sure, bring what you feel comfortable dragging along, and try to safely store what you don’t want to bring on a daily basis in a hotel safe, or some other secure place.
  • You can only make pictures with what you have.  Don’t think about the lenses in your bag, not currently on your camera, or worse, those you don’t have, and compose your shots accordingly.  Too many lens changes may bring unwanted attention to you as well.
  • Bring a good compact camera.  No matter what kind of gear you have, or how minimally you plan to travel, I would suggest a good compact, pocketable camera for the times you can’t realistically use, or don’t want to be advertising your gear.  Have this available for quick situations that present themselves.
  • Keep your audience in mind.  If you’re shooting entirely for yourself, great.  Have at it.  If you are going to be putting together a travel book/slideshow, etc, think about who will be viewing your shots.  Does your mom really want to see hundreds of “artistic” shots of abstract details?  Maybe, maybe not.
  • Try to find someone to take shots of you.  Don’t forget to get at least a couple snap shots with you in them.
  • Research your destination(s).  Places like flickr will give you tons of inspiration with a couple searches.  Try to find local photographic forums and if necessary, use google translator or something to get a feel.
  • Use common sense.  Chances are, you’re going to stick out as is, let alone strapping hundreds, if not thousands of dollars/euros/pounds/yen/rupees, et al worth of gear around your neck.  Know your surroundings and know when not to bring your camera out.
  • Have some way to backup images.  Be that a laptop, or inexpensive mobile backup drive.  If you lose a card, or accidentally erase images, it’s pretty hard to get them back.

Getting to a place where the vacation isn’t solely about photography, and the photography in turn isn’t solely about the vacation is where I aim to end up.  Normally, I end up with a mix of pictures that range from unmistakable to images that could have come from anywhere.  Documentation should not be a bad word, but shouldn’t dominate your shooting style.  I’d also prefer to have one picture that I want to print and hang from my wall at home, than 100 images that will be looked at a couple times and live on my computer.  While there is plenty of snap shooting on my trips, I will try to dedicate time to capture as many well thought out images as I can for each excursion.  Some days that is one or two, others more, while keeping in mind I’m not traveling alone and my wife might not be stoked having to ‘wait for me to get the shot’ for the 15th time on the way to the metro station.  As long as I can flip though the images at the end of each day and have at least one that has me excited, I’m happy.

I am going to try and post from the road as we go this time around as it is raining and generally miserable outside, so I have some ‘free’ time as it were.  Keep shooting, and I will do my best to do the same.

12 thoughts on “*Have camera, will travel.

  1. Bienvenue en France Tyson!

    Some great tips here!

    I hope you and your family are enjoying the beautiful City of Lights! You should try to hop on the Bateaux Mouches at night!

    Cheers and travel safely.


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  3. Tyson,
    Good points all and good luck traveling with the bambino. Kids deserve to travel and experience distant lands even as it cribs into your own, personal (selfish) goals. We certainly found that traveling in Europe with our son a ways back. He wanted parks and outdoors while we would mix in museums (deadly dull for a 5 year old).

    One thing that worked beautifully on our recent France/Spain/Morocco trip was this harness. It supported the GH1 as well as a telephoto lens, ready to shoot and SECURE.


    I’d state more strongly about photo equipment and anything you take, really: don’t take anything you can’t afford to lose. Which I suppose includes subtracting what your insurance covers – but then you’ve lost your best camera for the rest of your trip.

    We always take two cameras – one to carry when I don’t feel like packing the larger one.

    While I’m with you on taking pictures of yourself (get the wife involved) and always a sympathetic fellow tourist to snap pictures of the ENTIRE family. Looks like you’re on separate vacations otherwise.

    Another couple tips: take pictures of people who live where you’re traveling: uncomfortable sometimes but don’t come home w/o them. 😉

    Yet another tip: take some transitional shots if you’re blogging so you can tell a story: how did we travel? what did that rickshaw driver look like? What was the countryside like? Sure you’ve got shots of the great tall mountain but what about the surrounding country?

    My strategy is not to worry about what my audience is going to like – take plenty of pictures, thousands of them! of everything and then when you’re home, there’s time enough to sort through them. We took 4700 photos in 5 weeks, just to give you an idea. Really not a whole lot as it’s easy to take 500+ a day.

    The thought that goes through my mind: once I’m home, I can’t take the picture of wherever I am traveling. It’s lost forever and every great once in a while, that snapshot out the window will a) be a really great shot or b) help tell the story of the trip, if you’re blogging like me (shameless plug: http://terrydarc.wordpress.com ).

    The thousands of pictures presents another topic for your blog I think: how do you go through and find the best shots. My idea is to use PSE’s Organizer and rate shots using their * to **** system. Then I can immediately sort through the 1000’s of potential shots. Tagging them would also work but a bit slower.

    Cheers and thanks for one great column!


  4. Merci Andree! Paris est merveilleuse. We’d love to do a bit more in the evenings, but unfortunately, with a one year old, it happens to fall into the ever present meal/sleep routine. Being in an apartment vs a hotel room has made such a difference though. We’re in the southern part of the 5th Arrondissement very near the Mouffetard market which has been amazingly handy.

    Terry, thanks for the tips as well. That harness looks great. I’ve had the GF1 w/20mm in my coat pocket (at all times) and my 5D w/ either the 35 f/1.4 or 135 f/2 in hand or in bag which has been a good combo for me. Yes, luckily with a one year old, he’s been happy to just tag along no matter where we end up. The last time through Paris, my wife and I did the museum tour which got a lot of that our of our system. This time around we made Versailles our priority and have enjoyed just treking around to various sites/restaurants/shops, etc. We’ve also been enjoying shopping for meals since we have a full kitchen, and amazing market a couple blocks away. Yesterday we made some aigo boulido (provençal garlic soup) and ended up throwing together some beef stew with fresh veggies, wine and some great bread. It’s been wonderful to just hang out and absorb our surroundings. Such a wonderful city.

    Thanks guys! I hope to get a few Paris shots up over the next day or two.



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  6. Hey

    I have 5 minutes so decided Id do some looking at your older posts. Good Job I Did! This really solidifies what I was thinking.

    Having just booked a holiday (Credit cards can be fun) to Orlando (side Note: This is my first trip to America, Ive wanted to go since I was a small boy seeing it in all the movies and TV series I watched and even though Im aware Orlando isnt necessarily the ‘real america’ i’d like to see, some friends are going, we found a good deal and me and the Lady Friend love theme parks) I had my self questioning what to take. Im in love with my 20mm 1.7 as Ive stated before so thatll be my main lens, will take the kit lens also, small enough to have in bottom of my bag if i need a lil bit of zoom. So two lenses it is. I would love to have the 14mm Wide by then but im not sure ill have the
    benjamins for that.

    I cant wait, come June ill be stateside! only had to wait till i was 27! eventual plan? Next year maybe hit the trail for a few weeks and venture to NY, Chicago, Boston, Maine, Nashville etc would be cool… but we’ll see! thatd be the dream!

    I do have a question though, when youre out and about shooting how do you tend to hold/store the camera?

    I find having it around my neck is quicker for shots needed in a flash but when just walking it attracts attention and bounces about! An over and under approach (sitting under the arm like a sling/shoulder bag) increase stability and hides it a bit but reduces length i can hold it out, feels like i have TREX arms! rectified if i bought a longer strap i know. This would seem to be a fave for me.

    Or finally, my least favourite but necessary, in the bag safe waiting for me to try and grab it as fast as possible!

    I know its all personal preference but maybe I could steal some ideas or techniques! thanks Tyson



    • If you’re at a theme park, keep it out and ready. Whatever is most comfortable.

      Personally, I mix and match depending on the scenario. Out at the zoo, around my neck. With the kids, purse sling so it doesn’t nail my kids in the face every time I lean toward them. If I’m around a city, or not in a place that I want to draw attention, I take the neck straps off and use a small hand strap and just keep the cam in hand. I always have a shoulder bag on too (I converted a messenger bag that doesn’t look like a “camera” bag) and if I need my hands, or feel like having my camera out will call unwanted attention, it can quickly go back in the bag. The beauty of the m4/3 cams, especially with the 20mm is that they are so light and discreet that most folks won’t even bat an eyelid, and you can carry it around all day long without any ill physical effect.

      Florida wouldn’t be my idea of a fair representation of the country by any stretch, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t a fun place. Enjoy the trip and bring extra cards and batteries.



      • Wowser, cheers for the informative reply. I understand i may come across a newbie asking about what style you use but I have been taking photos for years just with film and old cameras and would flit in and out. But the m43rds has got me all excited about it again like when I play with the yashica 35mm. Just find peoples techniques intriguing. Yeh true, its not the America i ever imagined id go to first but in happy as Larry to be going at all as didn’t think was on the cards originally. As always thanks for your full reply, any hot spots for great shots in Florida would be pretty darn welcome if you’ve been before. Chris


      • I have spent some time in Florida, but I’ve not ever been to Orlando. Florida is flat, really flat, like the entire state sits right about at sea level flat. With that, and its latitudinal difference, the local wildlife is pretty fascinating. Alligators, snakes, beautiful birds, fish, swamp creatures and the ever bizarre nutria can make for fun photo ops. Also, if you’re into eating strange things, definitely try alligator. Isn’t bad, and fun to say that you’ve eaten it 🙂 of the places in Florida I’ve really enjoyed, the Keys are probably my favorite. If you have an opportunity, they’re really beautiful and far more photogenic than most other places, Florida or otherwise.


  7. I had no idea it was that flat…thats really interesting, im going to do some research, I know dexter is filmed in florida. thats about it. I bet the wildlife is pretty cool, very different to here. And the words “swamp creatures” has me hooked! sounds like a sweet B Movie film also.

    I am always up for eating strange things! I shall see what the keys holds and if its possible, we’re there for only one week so depends on what the ladyfriend says.

    I’ll go and look on the net and give you some peace…or maybe I should do work as Im currently at work.




    • Yeah, Dexter is filmed in Miami (well recently it’s been filmed in Los Angeles, but set in Miami) which is pretty different than Orlando which is inland. Again, I’ve not been to Orlando personally, but I have spent some time in Miami, and along the Atlantic coast side. I’m a fan of the ocean, especially in tropical locales. What time of year are you coming over? Late spring through early fall can be somewhat uncomfortable in Florida due to the heat and humidity, and being near the ocean, or gulf can certainly help in that respect. Depending on what you want to do outside of the Disneyworld type stuff, I think you could find all kinds of stuff from fishing, sailing, wild tours of the everglades via hovercraft and the like, then of course you could go hang out in the keys or something like that. Think feet in powdered white sand, shaded by palm trees, looking out over turquoise water drinking some kind of alcohol out of a coconut… Pretty much a living, breathing corona commercial. With the keys, I’ve only been out as far as Islamorada, but that was amazing.


  8. Haha thats the dream right there. You could sell it to anyone! Im going in June, which apparently is gonna be nuts hot and Humid. being from the realm of Alabastor skin that doesnt tan well I’ll be a nice bed lob, all the better to be behind the camera right? I too am a fan of the ocean, I blame it on me being Pisces! I Love cornwall in england, if you ever get chance visit the Harbour Town of Falmouth or St Ives. Stunning Cornish look to it, nowhere looks like that but there. Ive seen a greyhound can get us to the atlantic facing beaches in about 1hr – 2hrs so thatll be a must. sure sounds like fun out there. Im only there for a week and we’re going with another couple so we have to make sure everyones happy, although I have a major ‘Exploration Bug’ thing about new places. Just want to see it all.

    Been many places in the UK?

    I seem to have comandeered your comments on this one, sorry.


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